NAUGATUCK — For Tony Memoli Earth Day is all about connections.
The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, when Memoli was a senior in high school. At the time one of his teachers explained to him how people and the environment were connected.
Memoli has carried that lesson with him. When he began teaching science at Naugatuck High School in 1985, he started imparting that lesson on his students when he was asked to put together an environmental science class.
“I thought about that and how I might offer a class that students could not dismiss as irrelevant to their lives. They could say they didn’t care or weren’t interested in solving our most pressing problems but they must acknowledge, like it or not, that they were members of a much larger system and ultimately human health was directly linked to this system,” Memoli said.
During his tenure Memoli began the Ecology Club, which took students on day hikes and overnight backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail, snowshoeing through the White Mountains in New Hampshire and canoe trips in Maine.
“The kids learned the meaning of fellowship, of working together as a group to solve problems, and the adults learned how important a gym membership was,” Memoli said.
Eventually, he explained, liability insurance became a concern for the club and the more adventurous trips faded away. However, that did not stop him from bringing his students outdoors to help connect the environment and the classroom.
“We began to look for opportunities to make positive change in our school and our community,” Memoli said.
The club began and operated the high school’s recycling program, assisted the state with stocking local rivers with fish and participated with local groups in the annual Naugatuck River Cleanup.
The club also helped to save the 4-acre plot of land behind the high school from being developed.
“One morning I took our class out and, to our amazement, found a 10-foot wide bulldozer track through the middle of the trail, extending from the back of Western School through the trail to the Naugatuck practice field,” Memoli said.
The land was being used by teachers as an outdoor classroom and thanks to the effort of students it still is.
Memoli said he was upset that the work of faculty members was destroyed, but was surprised that his students were even more upset.
The students took their case for preserving the land to local officials, Memoli said. They spoke with the mayor, the superintendent, the media, the Inland Wetland Commission, and the principal.
Through their hard work the land was left intact, Memoli said, and the students learned they were not only connected to the environment, but that they could help shape its future.
For his actions over the years, Memoli was named Naugatuck’s Earth Day Mayor of the Day. He was honored Monday in front of Town Hall.
“We’re fortunate enough today to honor an individual who’s devoted his life not only to promoting a healthy earth here in Naugatuck, but also to teaching those lessons to the students that he has educated over the course of an entire generation,” Mayor Robert Mezzo.
State Rep. David Labriola (R-131) added, “We couldn’t have picked a better person than Tony. Congratulations to the Earth Day Mayor of the Day,” Labriola said.
Memoli said while Earth Day is celebrated once a year, people should realize that every day is a day they should understand their connection to the environment.
“Although Earth Day comes but one day a year we need to understand that every day is, indeed, Earth Day. Every day we need to be diligent, every day we need to promote a clean, healthy environment and that there are little things that each of us can do that together will indeed make a big difference,” Memoli said.